Friday, May 06, 2011

Election Reflection

The dust is starting to settle, and it now seems clear that the Lib Dems have lost badly, the SNP have exceeded even their wildest dreams, Labour have had a patchy performance, and the Tories have done much better than they must have feared. And Northern Ireland has yet to declare. The BBC's Nick Robinson notes in his blog that elections are certainly exciting again.

The most obvious thing is that the public are punishing the Liberal Democrats for their role in the coalition. No doubt, LD stalwarts will point to the concessions they managed to squeeze out of the Conservatives, but there is a public anger over Nick Clegg's seemingly happy acceptance of things he previously ruled out. His apparently fresh approach that won him so many points in the TV debates have proved to have little substance. His party has gone from seeming centre-left (and at times to the left of New Labour) to supporting the political right. A more distant operating agreement might not have had the same consequences, but the cosiness of the last year has come back to haunt him.

With tonight's result, electoral reform will be off the agenda for many years, so it's back to negative and tactical voting for many. Good job I now live in a marginal. Part of the problem was that we never really had a proper electoral reform debate. We were offered one new option, rather than a fuller consideration, and I suspect the No vote is so emphatic, not just because of the ludicrous scare stories from the political right and its press, but also because it was seen as a way of kicking Clegg. He was also on record describing AV as a "shabby compromise" - Lib Dems have long been committed to a proportional system.

It's worth noting here that Labour failed to deliver their 1997 manifesto commitment about electoral reform - the Jenkins Commission having recommended AV+. In the end it was too great a risk for the new government. Ed Milliband supported AV, but that won't do any enduring damage to him - all eyes are on Nick Clegg. More worrying for Labour is that they don't appear to have picked up all the fleeing LD voters - they seem to have done OK in England and Wales, but the SNP got them in Scotland. That means an independence vote, which could yet go any way, and will pose Westminster some tricky issues whatever the outcome.

Another mystery is why the Conservative Party hasn't also received the wrath of the voters - as things stand, they have actually gained councillors and councils. After all, the cuts programme is primarily their initiative, and they are the major governing party for the UK. It all goes to show that being the larger coalition partner is an advantage. To a lesser degree, Plaid Cymru have had a parallel experience in Wales. Being in government with Labour in Wales made it harder to campaign effectively against them, and they seem to have underperformed.

Perhaps the greatest irony is this: the SNP have an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament and Labour almost won the Welsh assembly. Both are elected by a partially proportional system, whereas FPTP gave us the coalition. Ain't life strange?
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